Category Archives: International Committee

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The Original Intent of Veteran’s Day

I’m squished in a taxi rushing through the tight streets of Hanoi’s western neighborhood.  I’m riding with 6 of our Vietnamese partners, as we make our way to drop everyone off after a long day of Friendship Village budget meetings, agreement setting, and celebrations.  I am an American, son of an American who fought in Vietnam.  The oldest passengers in the taxi fought with the North Vietnamese Army.  Mr. Nguyen Cao Cu, the director of education and vocational training at Vietnam Friendship Village, asks me something over the tired and joyful chatter.  He wants to know where my father fought and when, and I tell him, Bien Hoa and the nearby firebases, ‘70-’72.  Suddenly Mr. Cao Cu is laughing, and it’s not just vapors of the Russian vodka we toasted before our taxi ride home, he says, “I fought your father!”

I am filled with anxiety for what this election cycle means for the United States and the world.  I am concerned about our national divide and fallout that may result from these divisions.  I am concerned about the solutions to pertinent problems that will be lost in the chasm of these divisions.  If anything this year has been illuminating.

I have broken bread and toasted with a man that fought my father on the field of battle.  Today we work together to support the special education needs of innocent youth whose health problems stem from that conflict.  Vice Director Nguyen and I could be deeply divided, enemies even, if not for the spirit of reconciliation and dedication to the hard, slow work of peace.

Dedication to peace work is the original intent of Veteran’s Day.  In 1926 congress passed the resolution to set aside the 11th of November honoring the Armistice of World War I with these words…

“Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations…”

I have found great peace and personal growth from the work of goodwill and mutual understanding.  There is immense power in working across divisions.

What will you do this week to perpetuate peace and mutual understanding?

Send your ideas to vfvpusa@vietnamfriendship.org and we’ll share them on our social media feeds!

Director Tuyen receives cast grizzly claw from Stephen Abatiell, as a gift from the US committee.

Big Medicine in Viet Nam

During the US war in Vietnam there were many things carried over hilltops and through jungles by young American men.  These things brought the soldiers luck, memories of home, escape from the reality of war, or protection from it.  Among these special items and as out of place as the young man who’s neck it adorned, a claw of a great grizzly bear made its way through the humid forests of Vietnam.  The man who carried this claw was a Montanan of European decent, the claw a gift from a Native Blackfoot friend, who when unable to dissuade his friend from avoiding the draft, gave his powerful family heirloom as protection…

“When he saw I was going to leave, he loaned me his great, great, great, grandfather’s grizzly claw and told me to wear it all the time and it would bring me what I needed to get back. I believe it did. I held onto it around my neck and it held onto me. When I returned I gave it back to him in worse shape. He said the battering it took was taken away from me.”

Forty-five years later this symbol of strength, protection, and friendship between cultures has been cast and reforged in bronze by the Yellowstone area artist George Bumann.

Last month Becky Leuning, Don Blackburn, and I represented the US committee at the 16th Vietnam Friendship Village International Committee Meeting.  I carried a bronze casting of that original grizzly claw and was proud to present it on behalf of the US committee and all of our supporters, to Dinh Van Tuyen, Director of the Friendship Village.

GrizClaw

The beautiful bronze casting has a heft to it, you can feel the power and weight of the stories it carries.  Blackfoot, American, Vietnamese. This symbol was brought to life by one of our Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA supporters, George Bumann, and he is graciously sharing the proceeds from this artwork with the Friendship Village.

“To share the good fortune that has come our way in life just seems like the right thing to do. We have seen enough to realize how truly fortunate we are and though we are by no means ‘well off’ by American standards, we have been the benefactors of a great number of special opportunities and good luck-opportunities that others have not, or may never have. Caring for our fellow man seems like one of the greatest monuments that we can leave to future generations.”

George is one of many Friendship Village supporters giving their talents and inspiration to honor the lives and stories of our friends in Vietnam.  While you are giving remembrance to the past this Memorial Day, please consider what you might be able to create to honor our future.

If you would like to support the Friendship Village by purchasing one of these limited bronze castings, please contact George Bumann directly.  The price is $105 plus $10 shipping (in the US).  Each claw comes with the story of the original that traveled to Vietnam, a story of strength, protection, and unity.

George Bumann    gb@GeorgeBumann.com    406.223.6859

www.GeorgeBumann.com

 

Party Time at the Village

by Paul Wicker

This was my third trip to Vietnam Friendship Village to attend the biennial international planning meeting. It has become a bit of a routine process. You see old friends — members of the international committee, Village residents and staff. There are two days of formal meetings that produce the next two-year plan.

Things were pretty normal up to that point, but then came a surprise party. It was hosted by some of the Village residents and foreign volunteers. This was, without exception, the best party I had ever experienced in Vietnam. The menu consisted of Lê Văn Đô’s mystery punch, dumplings wrapped in leaves (Bánh bt lc) made from a recipe supplied by Hóa Bùi and Hang, and — the pièce de résistance — crepes coated with sugar and honey, preparation of the latter supervised by French volunteer Julie Duvert. I believe that I hold the record for the number of crepes consumed due to the efforts of Nguyễn Long who made sure that my plate was never empty. We all had a great time, sharing food, singing and communicating through language as well as non-verbal means.

VFVPartytablePaul Wicker, front center: “Now this is what I call a Happy Meal!”
[Photo: Auguste using Alain Bonnet’s camera]

The Vietnamese are always asking you to sing your favorite songs, so after the delicious meal, it came time for the “Voice“ competition. German Committee members Rosemarie Höhn-Mizo and Brigitte Mueller kicked it off by singing “Auf einem Baum ein Kuckuck” and “Die Gedanken sind frei,” both songs with a special meaning. The first one is like a children’s song, but one can also see the cuckoo as a symbol of freedom and the huntsman as a symbol of oppression. Japanese partner Shige Ahara sang “Smile” and the international duo of Shige Ahara and Auguste Bechler sang “What a Wonderful World.” Auguste Bechler, Alain Bonnet and Julie Duvert formed a French trio to sing “Aux Champs Elysées.” The Vietnamese villagers sang “Trái Đất Này Là Của Chúng Mình” (“This World is Ours”) and Mai Ngô sang an American pop song (from the Disney film Frozen, if I’m not mistaken).

Then it was crunch time for the Americans. Don Blackburn claimed that due to fatigue he couldn’t remember the words to any song unless there was a Karaoke machine. It was going to be up to me to uphold our national honor in the sing-a-thon. I racked my brain for several minutes and the only thing that popped into my head was, “Home on the Range.” I remembered the first stanza, but the next hurdle was difficult for everyone: I can’t sing. It was pretty embarrassing, but thankfully the crowd was in a forgiving mood.

VFVPartyFriendship Village “Kids” (many of them now adults) mix it up
with international supporters and foreign volunteers
[Photo: Maria Mulvihill using Alain Bonnet’s camera]

After the evening was over, the members of the international committee realized that we had learned an important lesson from the party. We have always referred to the young residents as “kids” or “children.” The residents hosting the party are now young adults and it is time to make some changes that reflect that reality and take advantage of their skills and capabilities.

A big thanks to Long Cảnh and Julie Duvert for organizing this splendid gathering.


 COMING HOME

by Paul Wicker

I have returned to my home in Van Canh Viet Nam
To the place called Viet Nam Friendship Village
This is where my family is
These are my brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandchildren
Home is where you are loved and love in return
We are all the same people
No matter the language, culture or appearance
I have known this since I first came to Viet Nam Friendship Village
I have arrived
I am home

Impressions: Words and Pictures

Friendship Village Houses

Friendship Village Residences [photo by Daniel Wagner]

After participating in a photography workshop held at the Friendship Village, a young German man by the name of Daniel Wagner emailed a selection of his photographs to Rosemarie “Rosi” Höhn-Mizo (president of our German and International Committees), along with the lyrics for a song he was inspired to write based on his impression of the Vietnam Friendship Village and its residents. Here is a translation of the message he wrote to Rosi:

Dear Mrs. Rosemarie Höhn-Mizo,
I would like to say that the institution and the thoughts behind the project have impressed me very much. Your committed support for the Friendship Village give me hope that the children who suffer from Agent Orange, in spite of their difficult destiny, will have a better life. My experiences with the children at Friendship Village were thoroughly positive. I felt they are grateful for the help and special education they receive.
If it is possible, I hope to return to the Village and lend additional support to this project.
Sincerely,
Daniel Wagner

A selection of Daniel’s photographs can be found on the Visitor Albums page of our Photo Gallery. Here are the song lyrics inspired by his experience:

AS YOU CAME
by Daniel Wagner

You show me something,
I missed for a long time.

It’s how to smile
and how to live my life.

You gave me something,
I already forgot.

It’s how to love
and how to give someone a hug.

When I see you standing here,
and I feel your power of love.
The struggle and the pain,
the feeling of being not the same.

But I promise you, I love you as you came.

When I got here,
to this foreign place.
I was not sure,
if I could handle this mace.

A new country,
another language and morals.

You took my hand
and made me ignore it.
You shown me something,
I already unlearned.

It’s how to think
of a better world.

When I see you standing here,
and I feel your power of love.
The struggle and the pain,
the feeling of being not the same.

But I promise you, I love you as you came.

 

Welcome Springtime!

blossomThe Vietnam Friendship Village Project’s U.S. Committee — that’s us! — is a very small group of people, currently made up of eight core members (our board of directors), plus a few stalwart supporters and volunteers. Although we consider our group to be national, that is, we wish to be raising funds throughout the USA, most of us core members are grounded in the West: Judy resides in Alaska; Becky, Don, Dan and Bill in Oregon; Carl and Paul in Northern and Southern California respectively. Then there is Liliane, who sometimes feels kind of lonesome way over there in Maryland…

Our little nonprofit is also unique in that we have no office, no paid staff, and no physical assets to speak of. We meet monthly via conference call; once in a blue moon we try for an in-person meeting. We all do what we can to share tasks, and although some of us may feel spread thin at times, we are proud to be able to say our efforts on behalf of the Van Canh Friendship Village are 100% volunteer. The same thing can be said for our counterparts, the Friendship Village’s German, French, Japanese and Canadian Committees.

In order to boost our fundraising capacity, we have set a high — yet do-able — goal to raise $50,000 during the current fiscal year (Our year starts on October 1st.) At the time we set this goal, each of us board members committed to personally bringing in at least $1,000. My favorite way to do fundraising is by organizing public events, and I’m happy to report that on March 10, my friends and I managed to raise a total of $720 in Santa Cruz, California. (Details to be blogged sometime soon…) I am now looking forward to a second event in Portland, Oregon: a Springtime dinner benefit slated for the evening of March 21, the first day of Spring! Through good food, music, poetry and story-telling, we will celebrate the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Van Canh Friendship Village and the (approximate) Twentieth Anniversary of our U.S. Committee. All the details can be found on the flier below (click for downloadable half-page version). Please help us spread the word… THANK YOU and Happy Spring!

In Memoriam: David Rocovits

David Rocovits, a long-time board member of VFVP-USA, a.k.a. the U.S. Committee, passed away suddenly on January 5, 2013, of difficulties related to a blood clot. He was a good friend to the Viet Nam Friendship Village—a frequent visitor and one of its most dedicated supporters. He will be greatly missed.

David’s brother Dan has resided in Hanoi for many years, and after being introduced to the VFV on a visit to the city in the early 2000s, David made a point of visiting every time he came to Viet Nam, usually every year or two. He was invited to join VFVP-USA’s Board of Directors in 2007, and in 2010 he attended the biennial international meeting at the Friendship Village as the U.S. Committee’s official representative. Over the years, David documented life at the village with his photographs, many of which have been published in our newsletters and on our website. He was a creative fundraiser and brought in a large share of the contributions raised in the USA. Here is the bio Dave submitted several years ago for our Board of Directors web page:

David Rocovits received a BS in Civil Engineering in 1963 from Case Institute of Technology and has been a practicing engineer in Nevada since 1973. He was drafted into the army and served from 1964 to 1966 as a research engineer in nuclear weapons effects. Between 1968 and 1972 he backpacked throughout much of the remote region of Asia from Turkey to Taiwan, and developed a love and respect for the Asian people and their culture. He worked for the California Division of Highways and several consulting firms before going into business for himself, acquiring and restoring residential buildings and managing them as rental properties. Dave and his wife Amy, a native of Taiwan, have a daughter who is an attorney in Reno and a son who is a college student. Dave’s hobbies include photography, pistol shooting, and restoration of Borgward automobiles. Dave has visited the Friendship Village multiple times and enlisted many of his friends, family members and associates in his efforts to raise financial support for the project.

The Rocovits family asks that memorial donations be made to the Viet Nam Friendship Village. Checks should be made to “Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA” and mailed to P.O. Box 599, Arcata, CA 95518-0599.

NOTE: Below is a small gallery of photographs of David Rocovits, taken (with his camera) at the Friendship Village in 2008, 2010, and 2011. The solo pic is from 2010 when he represented our committee at the international meeting, as is the photo of him and Paul Wicker sitting on the bench that was arranged by Dave to memorialize Don Flaxman, a VFVP-USA board member who passed away earlier that year. Dave preferred eating alongside the children in their dining hall rather than in the guesthouse dining room. Of all our board members, Dave was the least “political” in terms of identifying as a “peace activist” or working for peace or against war in any organized way, but he really understood the importance of reconciliation. He always made a point of visiting with groups of veterans who happened to be at the village during the times he was there (with the help of an interpreter). I think part of his motivation was simply cultural exchange. He probably brought along the small photo album of his travels—the same one he shared with me when we were getting to know each other. But he undoubtedly also meant to create more positive perceptions of Americans in the minds of a number of these Vietnamese veterans, and in that I have no doubt he succeeded.

Come Sit at Our Table

US Committee table at Friendship Village

VFVP-USA members Paul Wicker, Becky Luening and Don Blackburn enjoy a meal at the Friendship Village.

As we get ready to turn the calendar page from 2012 to 2013, I want to thank all of our friends in the USA and elsewhere who have helped support the Viet Nam Friendship Village with a donation this year—whether $10 or $1,000 or more. Inflation continues to drive up the cost of food and other basic supplies around the world, including Viet Nam, so every dollar is appreciated.

If you have not yet given, I invite you to do so. Become part of our international community…come sit at our table. Make a donation to the Friendship Village today.

Whether it is time, labor or funds we donate to this project, we are all volunteers, but once in a while our contribution to the Friendship Village is rewarded. I felt like the recipient of a gift when I picked up this email message on Christmas Eve from our friend Long, who works in the computer classroom at VFV [edited slightly for readability]:

Dear Becky,

The kids and I  like to thank the international committee for your assistance and the pleasure you have brought to our lives. For us who were unlucky enough to be born with a disability, it helps to know there are people out there who understand and care about us. The gift you give us is not just a meal, but the great gift of the spirit, of sharing.

You are like the Santa Claus of the Vietnam Friendship Village.

I hope you will convey to your heartfelt charity my cordial words and wishes for good health as you continue your work in the new year.

Happy MerryChristMas from Long in computer classroom at the VietNam Friendship Village

Group photo in computer classroom

Members of the International Committee pose for a picture with computer class instructors and students. (Long is first person on left in front row.)

A Building We Can be Proud Of

US Committee members who attended this year’s International Meeting at the Viet Nam Friendship Village came home with a clear assignment: Raise $22,573 to pay for the second-story addition to the school building. The reason we happily accepted this responsibility (and more—proceeding to set a lofty goal of raising $50,000 within the fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013) is because when the original one-story, four-classroom building was constructed in 2004-05, we were proud to say it was funded by US donations (split 50-50 between our committee and the Vietnam Children’s Fund), and we want to continue to say that. And the addition is already completed, which is how we know exactly how much is owed for the project. [Click here if you’d like to chip in!]

Blame it on jetlag: despite our committee’s close ties with this beautiful school building, I failed to bring home one photograph of the outside of the building taken from a distance, although I did take a couple shots of one of the upstairs classrooms, which has been nicely outfitted to be able to teach life skills to the children. So last week I asked our Vietnamese partners to take some pictures for me, and suggested they include some of the school children, waving from the balcony—and lo and behold, the next day, several beautiful shots arrived in my email box, along with wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Peace on Earth…

The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut has many of us in the United States meditating, as we grieve, on how to grapple with the epidemic of gun violence in our country. In listening to public discussions of the problem, I’ve heard more than one person draw parallels to the many, many children victims of wars, past and present, worldwide.

Drafting Peace AppealFollowing the ceremonial signing of the 2013-14 Memorandum of Understanding by the heads of the five national representatives present at this year’s International Meeting, one more document was passed around for the signature of everyone in the room. It was an “Appeal for Peace” initiated by our French partner, Georges Doussin. In the photo you can see Georges engaged in the process of drafting the appeal with Rosemarie Mizo and a French translator. Here is the text of the document we signed:

An Appeal for Peace
from the International Committee
of the Viet Nam Friendship Village
— 25 October 2012 —

Wars driven by financial greed have caused the loss of many lives and plunged millions of people into poverty and hunger. The International Committee for the Viet Nam Friendship Village appeals to all people to join hands to replace this inhumane exploitation with a dedication to peace and solidarity; and to replace hatred with friendship. Together we oppose all war.

Here at Van Canh, we have built a Friendship Village for war victims. It is the fulfillment of a dream and desire of veterans to fight for peace. Today, in love and solidarity, we dream about a world at peace. Today we envision the world as a village. For the happiness of every child, let us join together to save that village!

This simple, straightforward expression of a collective dream for world peace is true to the spirit of the founding of the Friendship Village. Doussin was one of the handful of international war veterans originally assembled to carry out the vision that grew out of American veteran George Mizo’s original desire to reconcile with his former enemies.

A visceral understanding of the nature of institutionalized violence often fuels a strong yearning among veterans for a world without war. The absence of war, of course, doesn’t mean an end to conflict, but those of us engaged in “peace work” strongly believe that most, if not all, conflict can be resolved nonviolently. For peace to be possible, humans must be willing to act from a place of compassion rather than competition. We must nurture the basic human urges of empathy, caring and sharing. This goes for nation-states as well as individuals.

One of the unique aspects of the Viet Nam Friendship Village is that it is partially supported by a community of people of different nationalities. This collaboration necessarily requires that we work at fostering cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect at the same time that we work together to provide good nutrition, effective treatments and education for Friendship Village residents. While not always easy, it is a very good practice to be engaged in.

VFVP-USA’s Winter 2012 Newsletter was mailed yesterday to just over 1,000 U.S. supporters. If you are not on our snail mail list, or if you want to share the newsletter with others, you may download the PDF via our newsletter page.

As we get ready to turn the page to 2013, on behalf of our board of directors, I extend heartfelt gratitude, once again, to Vietnam Friendship Village friends and donors in the USA for all your great support. Let us continue to strive together, in all different ways, toward our common goal of a world at peace.

Peace Pole

ABOVE: Dang Vu Dung and Ahara “Shige” Sigemitu pose next to the Vietnamese and Japanese language versions of the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth”  visible on two sides of a Peace Pole discovered at Tam Dao National Park north of Hanoi.


Cyber Tuesday

Once again I feel I’m being pulled screaming and kicking into the holiday season. For me, today, that meant joining other  nonprofits around the world in making a “Cyber Tuesday” pitch via the World Wide Web, hoping to capture the attention of  folks who are in the giving mood this time of year. Writing an appeal is never easy for me, and is usually preceded by weeks of creative procrastination… But since I’d been thinking about possible messages during those weeks, when I suddenly decided early this afternoon that today was the day (Cyber Tuesday!), I hit the ground running. And by the time I put it all together I was feeling pretty good. Good enough to hit SEND!

Star of the MomentAlthough it took up the better half of an afternoon, one reason today’s task was enjoyable is that it gave me a chance to relive a happy evening of entertainment at the village. There were many amazing moments wrapped up in this one event. For instance, an inspiring solo performance of the Mariah Carey song, “When You Believe”… If you had asked me earlier today, I couldn’t have told you the name of the song or the original artist. But I was able to track down those details online after tapping into my memory of this young wheelchair-bound singer, whose voice wasn’t polished by any means, but who managed to find pockets of perfect, emotionally charged delivery throughout her performance. I remember at the climax, the young Frenchwoman sitting next to me thrusting her hands in the air and crying, “Yes!”

Obviously, this young “disabled” woman possesses great courage and passion (not to mention talent) to be able to solo like that in front of a large audience. It’s great to see that the Friendship Village provides a supportive environment for these young people to pursue some of their passions as well as providing general assistance for developing physically, mentally and socially to the best of their abilities.

In case you’re not already on our email list, you may access today’s message here. Please feel free to share the link… and, by the way, Happy Holidays!